Monday, May 29, 2006

Rhode Island cat legislation

State of Rhode Island:
Population, 2004 estimate: 1,080,632
Land area 1,045 square miles

[1 square mile = 640 acres]

Farmers were exempted from this legislation; was just curious how many farmers there are, what the average number of cats per farm is, and the percentage of farm cats sterilized!

Number of farms, 2004: 850;
78% are 1 to 99 acres; 20% are 100-499 acres
Farmland area, 2002: .06 million acres; 9.2% of state land
from Farm Characteristics, USDA

See also May 12 post: state to require cats spay neuter?. The recent news articles below and an informative February news article and statement from PawsWatch (a TNR group) provide a look at some issues, interest groups and perspectives.

ACOs arch backs over cat bill
By:JO C. GOODE, Staff Writer
CUMBERLAND - A local animal control officer is hoping that Gov. Donald Carcieri will see fit to veto legislation that would require cat owners to spay or neuter their pets.
"Much of this law is just unenforceable," said Cumberland Animal Control Director Paul Rose, "What gives me the right to go to your house and say, 'Hi, let me see your cat'? It's an invasion of constitutional rights and people's privacy."
Last week the House overwhelmingly approved the bill 59-3 after it passed through the Senate, clearing the way for the governor to sign it into law.
The law would prohibit any person from owning a cat over six months old that's not spayed or neutered without a $100 annual breeding permit. Violators would be subject to a $75 fine for every month that the animal remains unaltered.
Meant to save the lives of thousands of abandoned cats euthanized in state animal shelters every year, supporters say the bill will reduce the problem of overpopulation.
"It's a never-ending cycle of despair and death," said Dennis Tabella, director of the Providence-based Defenders of Animals in a written statement urging support of the bill.
While the bill may be well intentioned to combat a serious
problem "it was not well thought out," Rose said, and one reason the Rhode Island Animal Control Officers Association spoke out against the bill during legislative hearings.
Rose said he's concerned that the law may prompt pet owners to abandon their cats rather than face costly veterinarian bills or fines.
"You know that's going to happen. People will either dump off their cats somewhere or leave it at an animal shelter or just deny ownership. It's a very difficult situation," Rose said.
A better way to combat the problem, Rose suggests, is come up with a low cost spay and neutering program, "so that people can afford to do it."
A former manager at a veterinary office, Rose said it cost over $125 to neuter a male cat, and even more to spay a female cat.
"It's just not fair. It costs me more to take my cat to the vet than it costs me to go to the doctor," Rose said.
The bill does provide a provision that mandate each town and city collect a one dollar surcharge from issued dog licenses as a way of generating revenue low cost spay and neutering program for low income cat owners in the municipality.
As far as the bill be signed into law, Rose said he had confidence in the governor.
"If he takes the time to really look at it, he'll find its inadequate, not sign it and send it back to the General Assembly," Rose said.
- With reports from AP

Law would require cat owners to spay or neuter pets
By M.L. Johnson, Associated Press Writer May 24, 2006
PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Rhode Island could become the first state to require cat owners to spay or neuter their pets under legislation passed Wednesday by the General Assembly.
The House approved a bill 59-3 on Wednesday to require cat owners to spay or neuter pets older than 6 months unless they pay $100 for a breeder's license or permit for an intact animal. Violators will be fined $75 per month.
The Senate previously passed the bill, and it now goes to Gov. Don Carcieri for his signature. The governor is still reviewing the legislation, said his spokesman Jeff Neal.
East Providence, Pawtucket and Warwick already have similar municipal ordinances.
Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, the legislation's main sponsor in the House, said she hopes Rhode Island will lead the nation in instituting a spaying requirement.
"Society is judged by how they treat their most vulnerable," said Lima, who sponsored legislation last year to ban the mass euthanization of pets.
Supporters say the bill could save thousands of cats from being killed each year and ease overcrowding in animal shelters. Private shelters and municipal pounds in Rhode Island killed 5,452 cats from 2002 to 2004, according to the state Department of Environmental Management.
"We need to get those numbers down," said Dennis Tabella, founder and president of Defenders of Animals, which backed the bill.
Tabella said he believes the spaying bill will help reduce cat overpopulation, much as rabies vaccination laws have helped slow the spread of that disease among dogs.
But other animal rights advocates, while wanting to reduce the state's cat population, worry the bill could prompt cat owners to abandon their pets rather than risk a fine or pay several hundred dollars for the birth control procedures.
"I assume they are either going to turn their cats into a shelter, turn them loose or spay or neuter them," said Ernest Finocchio, director of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "One is a good choice. Two are not good choices."
The bill has a provision for low-income pet owners to receive subsidies for low-cost spay and neuter surgery. It also exempts farmers.
© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The Wild Life
Providence Journal, Rhode Island - February 5, 2006

Listen as Providence Journal staff writer Benjamin Gedan narrates a slideshow about feral cats.
Survey: Should the state step in to help control stray cats?
Related links:
Paws Watch
Defenders of Animals
Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association
Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Related legislation
An Act Relating to Animals, introduced Jan. 25, 2006

Feral cats "are reservoirs of disease that they bring to your doorstep ... Someone has to do something to control this problem."
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006
Journal staff writer
WARWICK -- In backyards and alleyways, they are shooed away with a hiss or a bucket of cold water. Thousands are captured and put down every year. Their colonies, clustered at Dumpsters, are deplored as havens for disease.
But you wouldn't know it inside the Rhode Island Animal Medical Center, a private facility turned over every other Sunday to the nonprofit group PawsWatch, where the most fortunate of the state's feral cats receive medical treatment rivaling human health care.
It is not a spa, and the wild cats come for sterilization, not a massage and facial. But compared with the mean streets, this is kitty heaven.
On a recent Sunday, feline patients lay on heated operating tables, receiving anesthesia from a surgery technician and being spayed or neutered by a licensed veterinarian. Trapped and transported by volunteers, they received vaccines, antibiotics and dental and medical procedures that would cost a pet owner up to $2,000.
"We all love animals," said Patricia Munafo, who manages the clinic for Newport-based PawsWatch. "We do everything we can."
The twice-a-month clinic, by far the largest of its kind in Rhode Island, spays and neuters 1,000 cats a year. But it is only a small front in the losing battle to contain the state's feral and stray cat population. Nobody knows for sure how many strays there are in Rhode Island, but it's in the thousands and growing.
Efforts to reduce the number of wild cats in Rhode Island are largely uncoordinated -- in part the result of conflicting agendas and mistrust among the various groups dedicated to animal welfare. Yearly campaigns to enact a statewide legislative solution have foundered, exposing fissures within the community of policymakers, animal-control officers, animal-welfare advocates and veterinarians.
"Traditionally, they don't work that well together," says Dr. Christopher H. Hannafin, the official state veterinarian at the Department of Environmental Management.
In the fractious world of animal advocacy, the groups do agree on one thing: that the feral cat population is out of control. But animal advocates have only recently taken steps to form a coalition, and the years of leadership and legislative void have left urban streets teeming with alley cats.
The problem worsens daily. A female cat can start reproducing at five months old and can bear three litters a year with as many as six kittens each.
That has left animal-control officers overwhelmed and turned animal-shelter managers into frequent executioners. From 2002 to 2004, the 39 municipal pounds and eight private shelters in Rhode Island euthanized at least 6,850 cats, according to the DEM. In Warwick alone, the number of cats euthanized annually has doubled in the past five years. Last year, the city put down 124 of the 412 cats it sheltered, said Ann Corvin, the Animal Shelter director.
"They are reservoirs of disease that they bring to your doorstep," says Dr. E.J. Finocchio, director of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "It's a serious situation, and someone has to do something to control this problem."
NATIONWIDE, there are an estimated 73 million cats kept as pets and a similar number living outdoors. Captured stray cats -- runaway or abandoned household pets -- are occasionally adopted from local pounds, but their wild offspring, classified as feral cats, are typically shy around humans and poor candidates for adoption. In the wild, the yowling females are nearly always pregnant, and unaltered tomcats roam a city, displaying violent and antisocial behavior and urinating to mark their territory. Many are infested with fleas, malnourished and injured from fights.
Several cities have taken drastic and controversial steps to reduce their homeless cat populations. Last October, the Pawtucket City Council passed a law prohibiting the feeding of wild cats, a policy many animal-rights advocates deplored as cruel and unnecessary. Residents caught slipping scraps to an alley cat face a potential $50 fine.
In December, the Warwick City Council approved a law requiring all cat owners to spay or neuter their pets by the age of six months or be subject to a $100 monthly fine. Pet owners who want to keep their cats unaltered must pay a $100 annual fee for every unaltered pet. Only licensed cat breeders are exempt from the law, which is based on an ordinance in East Providence.
"When people move away, they just let the cats go and they reproduce," Donna M. Travis, a Warwick City Council member who sponsored the ordinance, said. "The kittens out there are dying, and they are a nuisance."
Last month, Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, filed a bill in the General Assembly that he says would make Rhode Island the first state in the country to enact a mandatory spay/neuter law. Under the bill, it would cost $100 to harbor a fertile feline, and the failure to comply could bring a $100 monthly fine.
"We're such a small state. This is a piece of legislation that could work," said Tassoni, who described feral cats as coyote food and blamed them for spreading rabies and Lyme disease and causing a general nuisance. "We need to get this under control."
Defenders of Animals, based in Providence, is planning a rally in support of the bill on Wednesday in the State House rotunda. Volunteers will display a paper chain with a link for each of the 2,141 cats put down last year in Rhode Island, according to Dennis Tabella, the group's director.
"That's a lot for a small state," said Tabella, who said the law could reduce euthanasia at municipal shelters by up to 65 percent. "This bill would go a long way to cut down the amount of cats that are being put to sleep every year."
But, like the Pawtucket feeding ban, this proposed law has come under fire from PawsWatch and other promoters of animal welfare. They say it would encourage low-income pet owners to drop off cats at the pound or simply abandon them because they can't afford a spay or neuter procedure. The result, they say, would be an increase in strays.
Spaying a cat can cost as much as $225, and if a veterinarian should find distemper, intestinal parasites or some other health problem, the bill could skyrocket.
Neutering is a form of birth control that involves the removal of a male cat's reproductive organs; a spayed female cat has typically had her uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes taken out.
Jessica Frohman, program manager for Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit group based in Bethesda, Md., said mandatory sterilization laws are impossible to enforce and should never precede the establishment of low-cost spay/neuter clinics.
"People want to do it," Frohman said. "They just can't afford the price."
Two weeks after Tassoni filed his bill, Rep. Peter G. Palumbo, D- Cranston, and Rep. Robert E. Flaherty, D-Warwick, proposed legislation to create a state fund to subsidize spay/neuter clinics. The bill would create a check-off box on state income tax forms to raise money for the fund, which would be controlled by a board including Finocchio or his designee.
NEW HAMPSHIRE passed a similar law in 1993, providing money for a network of private veterinarians to perform low-cost spaying and neutering. Euthanasia has since dropped by 75 percent, according to Peter Marsh, director of STOP, Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, the Concord, N.H., nonprofit group that helped create the law.
Twenty-three states have special license plates that raise money for spay/neuter clinics. In Illinois, a state law approved last August raises $2 million a year for clinics from pet-licensing fees, Marsh said. In all, about 30 states, including Maine and Vermont, raise money in some way to offer low-cost clinics.
In Rhode Island, however, a four-year effort by the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to create a similar fund has faltered, in part because of disputes over who would control the money as well as concerns among some veterinarians about a potential loss of business. On Thursday, a separate bill was filed to create a similar fund but altering the board that would disburse the money.
Dr. Courtney Rebensdorf, president of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association, has also questioned the push for state-supported low-cost spay/neuter clinics, saying the association already offers affordable services for low-income pet owners, who are charged half the going rate for the procedures.
Also, Friends of Animals, in Darien, Conn., provides coupons for pet owners for discounted spay/neuter services at certain veterinarians. And, a handful of independent veterinarians also offer a similar service.
Low-cost clinics, Rebensdorf said, deprive pet owners of the guidance offered by a private veterinarian, who teaches pet owners proper cat nutrition and provides preventive care.
"We want to be able to diagnose and treat and prevent health problems before they become life threatening," Rebensdorf said. "If you're just dropping your pet off for a low-cost spay and neuter, it's not ideal."
Even promoters of the universal spay/neuter bill and the state fund for subsidizing the procedures acknowledge that the legislation would not completely solve the alley-cat problem. Existing colonies, they say, would continue to flourish, despite the scarcity of food, the region's harsh winters and the dangers of living in the wild.
Groups such as PawsWatch have stepped into the breach to help street cats live happy, sterile lives. Relying primarily on volunteers and donations, PawsWatch is following the so-called trap-neuter-return strategy that is popular in several large communities, including New York City, where the group Neighborhood Cats has promoted the method since 1999. In New Britain, Conn., city officials recently began subsidizing programs using that strategy, and advocates say other local governments could soon follow suit.
In its literature, PawsWatch takes pains not to demonize feral cats as meddlesome disease carriers, saying the animals it rescues are hardluck critters condemned to reproduce "in starvation and squalor and facing poisoning or mass roundup for death."
In trap-neuter-return, volunteers attempt to capture an entire colony of homeless cats, provide spay/neuter services and return the animals to their old haunts, where they are monitored by neighborhood animal lovers who provide food. The goal is to improve the lives of the feral cats while guaranteeing that the colony gradually dies off.
Feral cats are a serious problem, says Finocchio, and PawsWatch is the only group "stepping up to the plate."
PawsWatch President Kathy MacPherson says the group provides an invaluable service to local governments, humanely treating wild cats while gradually eliminating the colonies. The trap-neuter-return approach is non-lethal, but it does control the feral cat population, its supporters say. Eventually, "we want to be put out of business," Munafo, the PawsWatch clinic manager, put it.
Some veterinarians, however, do not favor trap-neuter-return initiatives.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has expressed concern that feral cats pose a danger to small songbirds, rabbits and mice. The wild cats also pose a public health risk, the association says, particularly if groups returning cats to the wild do not provide regular checkups for the cats or administer a second rabies vaccine a year after the first.
"High-quality care is important," Rebensdorf said. "If you're going to have managed colonies, it has to be done responsibly."
Despite the frequent disagreements, there appears to be a détente in the works among animal-welfare groups and veterinarians. MacPherson said an alliance is being formed to lobby and raise money for low-cost spay/neuter clinics. And Rebensdorf said a recent grant from the Rhode Island Foundation will help veterinarian and shelter administrators improve communication.
Last year, animal-rights activists got the General Assembly to ban gas chambers in municipal animal shelters; since August, all euthanasia has involved lethal injection.
The new coalitions, however, have only recently began to meet, and in the interim, homeless cats have been busy breeding.
"Every year it goes up. It's ridiculous," said Corvin, who runs the Warwick Animal Shelter. "They're everywhere." / (401) 277-8072

PawsWatch's position
We are happy to see open debate on this critical subject. The single most important fact of every discussion we are having today is that we all want the same thing: We all want more spay/neuter -- and accordingly, less euthanasia. VSA has been doing fabulous rescue work for a very long time, and as we have always said, we respect their acheivements. We disagree only on the means to the commonly desired goal, of more spay/neuter and less euthanasia.

We welcome good, solid evidence for anything which will achieve that end.

As PawsWatch stated in February, and whenever asked since then, our position is NOT that requiring spay/neuter is a bad thing.
Our position is that requiring spay/neuter (with penalties to enforce it) will not work unless and until funding is available to make it affordable.

Numerous large and successful low-cost spay/neuter programs around the country (for example, NH, Maine, Alabama, Jacksonville County FLA) have provided an opportunity to see what people will do when they can afford spay/neuter. In each of these instances, where funding was available, spay/neuter skyrocketed, and euthanasia declined. When unlimited, affordable spay/neuter was available, demand averaged five surgeries per 1000 people per year in a population. Taking into account Rhode Island's population size, and higher cost of living (so that vets will need to be subsidized by about $70 per surgery), that translates to a cost of about $350. per 1000 people per year (recorded numbers do not decline). For a state of roughly a million to 1.1 million people, this indicates a cost of approximately $350,000 per year.

In addition, that $350,000 must be sustainable over the long term. That means that there must be a plan in place to replace consistently depleted funds.

We do not see that funding in place yet, in Rhode Island. That is why we also support the work of RI Foundation -- which is looking for a way to make spay/neuter affordable. The proposed bill includes a $1. price increase for licensing, which will not be enough. It dictates that penalties will be directed to spay/neuter, but experience shows that substantial revenue cannot be collected in penalties. Also, VSA has mentioned having some grant monies available, which represents really good hard fundraising work; but it does not reach the amount needed.

There ARE successfully self-regenerating programs in place around the country, and Rhode Island needs that. Once such a program makes spay/neuter affordable, then it will make sense to require spay/neuter.

Experience nationwide shows that the requirement alone (without the funding) does NOT work.

The oft-cited San Mateo example needs closer inspection. Mandatory spay/neuter was passed as law in San Mateo county 15 years ago, when other funding solutions had not been developed, and people were desperate for a solution. The law applied only to the unincorporated parts of the county -- that is, areas without municipal governments, so, no cities or towns. After the law was passed, euthanasia rates in the cities (not governed by the law) declined. Euthanasia rates in the unincorporated areas (where the law was in affect) actually increased markedly. This is a straight-forward, documented fact. That is what PawsWatch does not want for Rhode Island. No one would like more than us, to believe there is a quick solution to overpopulation. But we are faced with hard facts. It didn't work. And San Mateo is a very wealthy area, where the euthanasia rate was relatively low to start with.

Now if we could just get funding in place -- using the carrot instead of the stick, or a carrot with a stick -- but not a stick by itself -- then the statistics are very different.

When Maddie's Fund made affordable spay/neuter available in Alabama, 36,000 surgeries were done within the first two years. In an area of about 4 million people, that's roughly 4.5 surgeries per 1000 people, per year, right in line with the national average of what's needed.

When the Humane Alliance in Asheville, NC, made affordable spay/neuter available, their euthanasia rate dropped by 70%. When New Hampshire made affordable spay/neuter available, their euthanasia rate dropped by 77%. That is what PawsWatch wants for Rhode Island.

PawsWatch would like to work in concert with anyone who will help to make spay/neuter affordable. PawsWatch recognizes that once spay/neuter is affordable, there is a place also for negative incentive, to prod recalcitrant individuals who are simply unwilling to spay/neuter.

Beginning in February, when this issue was first brought to our attention, we said that VSA and Defenders of Animals are both known for their excellent rescue work. We support both groups, but we disagree on this particular aspect of how spay/neuter can be increased. Our opinion is not based on theories, or predictions, or concepts -- our opinion is based on facts and statistics. Our opinion is that to require something which is not possible for the 3 critical sources of cat overpopulation (shelter cats, feral cats, and low-income household cats) -- will result in increased abandonment and euthanasia.

Kathy MacPherson